Protecting People’s hard earned money

Endeavour House PictureYesterday at Suffolk County Council it was budget day and the big set piece of Council life. What struck me most in the course of the 3 hour debate was firstly how powerful actual debate is, something that is sorely lacking in modern council structures and how it really highlights the differences of focus between Labour and the Conservatives. Cllr. Martin, the Leader of the Labour group, spoke of county life ”There are a few pirogue in Suffolk who would cope perfectly well with minimal county council services’. ‘So long as the roads are well-enough maintained for them to be able to drive their children to their private schools and visit their private hospitals’ a shocking generalisation but very telling none the less.

I got into politics because people where I live often struggle with their budgets and when the county council was controlled by Labour and the Liberals, people really struggled with the ridiculous tax demands the council repeatedly threatened people with. Those I represent are hard-working people who in the main don’t drive large cars or take their children to private schools, they sit down at their kitchen table and work out their budget and pay their bills.

I said then and I said yesterday councils should live within their means and stop treating hard pressed families as cash cows. I of course accept that 0% council tax rises are unstainable in the long term, of course they are, inflation is inflation and cannot be absorbed forever equally we have an ageing population and despite new ways of working with communities yielding short term benefits, in the longer term our ageing population cannot be supported with the current structure of either social care or the NHS and more money will have to be spend nationally and thus locally in these areas.

During the debate as I mentioned the tax rises of the last Labour/Liberal administration I was reminded across twitter that when Labour put the County Council Tax up by 18.5% the Conservative counter-proposal was 14.5% and it struck me how times have changed. The mind sets that existed in those days of an ever enlarging local gov and state sector demanding more and more of people’s money to build empires, is thankfully a thing of the past and we are now in a period of re-visioning born of economic reality, which is yesterday’s Suffolk Labour Group amendment and speaker after speaker is anything to go by, is still something Labour can’t grasp, truly scary! Since we came to power in 2005 Suffolk County Council has been on a strict course of efficiencies but it is in these last 5 years of government grant constriction that the most dramatic changes have been required to reshape the council to protect services to the most vulnerable in our communities. There is no doubt collectively local government is getting to the blunt end of efficiencies, but there is more to come.  Structurally what the future holds for local government in Suffolk and indeed across the country is starting to be debated and is required to continue to protect services to vulnerable people and equally protect hard pressed families who work and pay their Council Tax bill.

So I leave you with one thought:

The last eight Labour and Liberal years
1998/99 – 10%
1999/00 – 8.4%
2000/01 – 7.3%
2001/02 – 6.9%
2002/03 – 11.9%
2003/04 – 18.5%
2004/05 – 3.8%
2005/06 – 2.5% (in election year, achieved in desperation with the use of reserves)

Conservative years
2006/07 – 4.5%
2007/08 – 4.5%
2008/09 – 3.7%
2009/10 – 2.45% (SCC’s lowest-ever increase)
2010/11 – 2.4% (ditto)
2011/12 – 0%
2012/13 – 0%
2013/14 – 0%
2014/15 – 0%

And as of yesterday 2015/16 – 0%

Who do you think is on the side of hard working people just trying to pay their bills?

Vote today for 0% County Council Tax increase for the next 4 years

My Row Heath campaign 2013 and Conservaitve Pledge of 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax rises

My Row Heath campaign 2013 and our Suffolk Conservative Pledge of 0%, 0%, 0%, 0% Council tax rises

So the election day arrives and its off out to delivery the message to go and vote. I have been out canvassing, delivering our message that we will have frozen the Council Tax for 3 years and if elected will freeze it for 4 more years, hence the big ‘Zero’ balloon, in every street, close, avenue, road, and drove in my division.

That’s 0% Council tax rises over 7 years for every single one of the villages it’s been my privilege to represent.

Suffolk Conservatives firmly believe that a Council should ‘live within its means’

I firmly believe that a Council is not a business but it can be run in a business-like fashion.

I’ve met many people, knocked on a lots of doors, and I’ve annoyed a few dogs along the way as I have tried to delivery my message that ever increasing Council Tax is not the answer. It’s your hard earned money, you are not a ‘cash cow’ for the Council to simply raid every time it has an issue to address.

Thank you to all who took the time to speak with me over these past few weeks.

It will only take a few minutes to pop down to the polling station and cast your vote, the polls are open from 7am to 10pm.

If you have a postal vote and have not yet filled it in and posted it, yes it’s too late to post but no worries you can simply complete it and take it to the polling station for them to collect, that way your vote will count.

I would really appreciate your vote today.


Manifesto time

So I’ve had a good read through all the manifesto’s from the Greens wish list to Labour’s uncosted nonsense; only one still to come and surprise, surprise (and I checked goggle and their out of date web site this morning but still nothing) it is the Liberals but given their track record and the complete lack of effort they put into each year’s County budget process we can probably expect a side of A4 maybe the day before the election!

Also seen various from UKIP which reflects what my moles at Monday night’s UKIP meeting in Brandon have been saying about when Nigel Farage spoke, his passion was totally focused on immigration and Europe and frankly he seemed disinterested in local government other than a means to promote his party. These elections are not about immigration and Europe those are national issues. This is the county council local government elections and it’s about local services, protecting our rural bus services, repairing our roads, ensuring our council ‘lives within its means’ and the Council tax you pay; not Europe and European migration, that’s next year with the European elections.

So from the Greens we have a few points that are, as is their two man party in the Council Chamber one deep red, one deep green and between them they have produced a schizophrenic mixture of socialist dogma and the somewhat idealistic deep green agenda.

As for Labour’s, well take a good dollop (don’t you just love that word dollop) of socialist dogma, some things we’d all like to do but don’t have the money to and most importantly mix it all together with lashings of amnesia – at times, just as in the Council Chamber over the past 4 years, it’s as if the economic situation has completely past them by, it’s as if the cut in government grant is an optional thing, it’s as if 13 years of Labour’s fiscal madness never happened – recession what recession!

So many lovely things we’d all love to do but how can I put this simply:

We don’t have the money and the government is given us less and less of it each year!

But wait a minute – hey you do! What about all that lovely money you the Council tax payers have stashed away?

Time for Labour to come clean – what would it be this time? a repeat of the last time they were in power with the liberals in Suffolk? 11.9% Council Tax rise followed by an 18.5% rise the very next year? or just go for the 30% increase in one easy step!?

Next Generation Alumni and Council tax rises

On Saturday I attended the Next Generation Leadership Centre Alumni event where those who have worked with Christina Dykes on a yearlong journey to better understand the role of Councillors as political leaders come back together to discuss the topics of the day and feed into national Politicians, on Saturday we were joined by Bob Neill MP and we had our usual lively debate.

There is a wonderful programme of training offered on every connectible subject for Councillors from the LGA but for all its strengths it is all entirely a-political in fact every session starts a bit like an AA meeting with the two basic rules ‘Chatham House’ and ‘we must not be political’ stated, chanted and agreed.

The great strength of the Leadership Centre for Local Government is precisely that it is different it’s training is entirely political delivered in three stream one Conservative and two other’s; one something to do with how best to sit on the fence and the other focussing on spending all the money in the good time and saying nothing to do with us gov’n now that it’s all gone wrong.

On Saturday amongst the many subjects we explored we discussed the almost unbelievable news that some Conservative controlled Councils are putting up their Council tax and not taking up the rebate offered by the Government. To my mind this is quite simply staggering; in these difficult times government has offered to help and we should take it up.

We all know that we cannot continue to offer 0% forever as each year this is in fact a cut after inflation; this year Suffolk’s 0% is more like a 3% cut.

In my own Council, officer talk about the business of the council and that 0% is unsustainable but we are not businesses we are Councils and our role as Councillors and politicians is to be demanding in the way we hold the Councils to account. As politicians we are here to represent our communities and my community tell me load and clear the best thing I can do to help them in these difficult time as they try to balance their household budgets is to keep Council tax down, this is also the number one fear of my older residents who struggle to live on their pension as it is.

I utterly reject the notion of putting up the Council tax this year and am extremely proud that Suffolk Conservatives are so demanding of the organisation that it is making savings; the majority of which are in the back office rather than hurt people in these difficult times by putting up Council tax.

There are many aspect of being a Councillor that have nothing o do with politics but I say there are just as many that are political and that defining what it means to be a Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour Councillor is just as important as learning community leadership, in fact I would say it was an integral part of community Leadership.

There are great rumblings as to what the future holds for the Leadership Centre, I for one hope it can flourish and deliver more training courses some long, some short, all focused on being political.

Zero Pounds, Zero Pence

Tomorrow we have a cabinet meeting to approve the 2011/2012 budget for it is debated by the Full Council later in the month, from our point of view it’s the culmination of months of hard work working out where and how to make £42.5M of savings over the coming year and deliver a balanced budget.

From the start of the process we were working on delivering a Zero pounds and Zero pence council tax rise, not by using a promised government grant incentive to pay for it, but by truely budgeting planning for no rise; the presumption was that if the incentive materialised, as it now has, we would use that to work with the District and Boroughs councils to protect front line services.

I have written much on my blog about the cuts and what we are trying to achieve, and being a part of this arena it’s quite easy to think that nothing else matters. But occasionally I think you need to take a step back and look at what effects the majority of people in Suffolk; I think the majority of people do not perceive they use Council services, yes they use the roads and want their bins emptied but for many and I have a number of friends included, they have little interest in the council, for them the main interaction with the council is when they get the Council tax bill and frankly from that they judge your performance.

Now I know I have colleagues who think this is a very cynical view but I think it’s a very useful one, if our aim is fundamental to protect the most vulnerable its important to realise that the Council tax rise has a real effect on the lives of residents; not so much if you are really on a very low-income because you probably get Council tax relief or if you are doing wonderfully well in life; but if you are on a fixed or lower-income Council Tax rises can have a profound impact on your income and can hit you the hardest as the percentage of your income that goes on the council tax is significantly higher than for those other groups.

So I fundamentally still believe it is a very significant moment and responsibility we have; indeed since I became a Councillor in 2006 the biggest single moment each year was the announcement of the Council Tax rise and the press were posed to pass judgement, so when the cabinet papers for this week’s cabinet meeting were published last Monday, the rise of zero pounds and zero pence passed almost without comment; all the talk was of cuts, savings, back office efficiency and job losses; entirely understandable but  interesting is how agendas move on.

Personally I believe that being efficient and keeping Council Tax rises down is the single biggest way we can help the people of Suffolk particularly those on fixed or low incomes during these straighten times and in this respect I thing the Conservative Administration since 2005 has something to be proud of.

Liberal Labour Control: 98/99 – 10.0%, 99/00 – 8.4%, 00/01 – 7.3%, 01/02 – 6.9%, 02/03 – 11.9%, 03/04 – 18.5%, yes this is not a type-o it was 18.5%, so in two years they put up the Suffolk County element of the Council tax by over 30% , then in 04/05 – 3.8.

In 05/06 the Labour Liberal pack tried set the council tax rise at 2.5% as a cynical election ploy and used captial reserves and revenue contincency to pay for it. Having won the election the Conservative stuck with the low rise but wqorked hard to achieve immediate cost sacvings to protect the reserves.

Conservative Control:  06/07 – 4.5%, 07/08 – 4.5%, 08/09 – 3.7%, 09/10 – 2.45%. 10/11 – 2.4%, 11/12 – 0.0%

The figures speak for themselves loud and clear.

As Labour and the Liberals try, in the coming local elections, to hope people have short memories of their inability to run councils properly; I for one intend to remind people of the disastrous effects of letting them have a ‘play’ at running things, in these difficult times it is vital that Conservatives remind people of the need for sound judgement that protects the most vulnerable and strong leadership that demands the council continues to change to meet the challenges head on.

On the other hand you can always have labour and the liberals with their ‘pay and play’ attitude that is you and I pay, they play, given their track record is that ‘pay, pay ,pay and play’!

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